Every week, WoW Insider brings you Blood Pact for affliction, demonology, and destruction warlocks. This week, Megan O'Neill wants to look into a popular counterargument to the nerfing of Kil'jaeden's Cunning.
Or not, as I'll argue we warlocks have our own style of play.
The damage dealing game isn't just about turning a mob down to 0 points at the end of the night, but about using the mob's health bar to vault over cooldown or resource barriers. Turning a warlock into a sitting duck in PvE requires either getting rid of all the mob health bars or getting rid of the warlock, which is usually accomplished by movement or threat of certain death. This struggle against being useless is what makes choices in a damage dealer's arsenal meaningful.
Life can't be boring with all instants
The most popular counterargument to the nerfing of Kil'jaeden's Cunning is that hunters can do everything on the move, so why not warlocks. It's actually true -- the cast-time abilities of a hunter are either by default or glyphed for moving while casting and everything else is instant.
But is movement really the meaningful choice for hunters?
Standing still or on the run, Auto Shot is going to contribute for approximately 10-20% of the damage done, depending on spec. The hunter is literally standing there with his bow or gun firing plain ammunition for no special reason. Why doesn't the hunter just use the focus generator ability? You know, that one he can cast while moving?
Probably because it's actually a temporary minor DPS loss to do so. Cobra Shot does 70% weapon damage in return for 15 focus generated. Auto Shot will give a hunter 100% weapon damage going out in return for whatever amount of focus their passive generation (increased by haste) gives them.
Beastmasters and survivalists still assure me that Cobra Shot still sees action to prevent the focus bar from drying up too much, but it's clear from ranked logs that letting the bow or gun autofire is the more frequent choice. As all the regularly used abilities are instant, movement doesn't really have any effect on a beastmastery or survival hunter's personal DPS (outside of pets or traps, anyway).
But Aimed Shot is a cast-time! ... or is it?
The two main focus-spending shots for marksmanship hunters, Aimed Shot and Chimera Shot, cost 50 and 45 focus each, which amounts to half the resource bar. Chimera Shot is instant but on a cooldown and Aimed Shot is that well-known glyphed for moving while casting ability.
Steady Shot, that other casting while moving ability, is not actually used for that much for focus generation. Well, it is, but it also isn't. Marksmanship hunters want to decrease either the cast time or the focus cost of their abilities, and Steady Shot helps them do both.
Steady Shot deals 60% weapon damage in return for normally 14 focus. When Steady Shot is cast twice back-to-back, the marksman gains a substantial buff to his ranged attack speed and also to his focus generation. Furthermore, Steady Shot can help stack another buff to reduce Aimed Shot's painful cast time and cost. Steady Shot is by default able to be cast while moving.
In fact, according to the Icy Veins marksmanship guide, regular cast-time Aimed Shot is labeled as a focus dump, and it's the procced instant version that sits higher up as a major ability priority. Later on, the guide specifies that it's not worth it to use cast-time, cost-heavy Aimed Shot unless the hunter is under significant attack speed or haste buffs.
There's more icing on the cake: Auto Shot is still going to contribute for approximately 10-15% of the damage done. The hunter is still impeded from using special abilities by cooldowns or focus generation, rather than aided by casting essential spells on the run.
Ability management adds complexity, meaning
Elemental shaman work better as a casting while moving comparison than hunters do. After all, the hunter resource works more like the melee-friendly energy bar, which does not work very well with caster ABCs (Always Be Casting). Melee and hunters are rather meant to be occasionally sitting on their duff with white attack damage floating by rather than being limited periodically by movement.
Shaman have a DoT just like warlocks do, but their DoT isn't for damage. Well, Flame Shock does deal damage, but they don't keep it rolling for the damage done like we do. Flame Shock's presence on a target will buff Lava Burst's damage and its ticks have a chance not only to reset the cooldown of Lava Burst, but make the nuke instant-cast. Flame Shock and Lava Burst are a rather contained set of mechanics -- that is, you can't really mess it up unless for some reason you can't cast Flame Shock.
But elemental shaman do have a shock complexity going on. Triggering Earth Shock will set its sister spell Flame Shock on mutual cooldown. Why would you want to hit Earth Shock? Elemental shaman have two passives at work with Lightning Shield: one that allows Lightning Bolts, chained or single, to regenerate mana and charge the shield, and one that buffs the damage to Earth Shock using the charges on the shield. So it turns out that Lightning Bolt isn't just another thing to cast when bored.
In between the shock dancing, elemental shaman also often throw another cast-time spell into the mix: Elemental Blast. It has a 12-second cooldown, and Lava Surge will only serve for about half the Lava Burst casts. Shaman get a bit of a damage boost through their mastery, which can copy a Burst or a Bolt for a portion of the damage dealt.
So even with a movable filler cast-time spell, elemental shaman are still stuck with short cooldown management and stagger-casting for a portion of a moving fight. Spiritwalker's Grace is there to sometimes aid shaman when procs are missing to help them during movement.
Why don't warlocks get to keep a "Felwalker's Grace" cooldown, too? We have the instant Fel Flame as an option where shaman don't. The idea behind Patch 5.4's buffs to Fel Flame is that the spell can actually start filling this movement substitute role rather then continuing to collect dust in our spellbooks.
Warlocks: all your health are belong to us
I said in a podcast recently that as a warlock, "you're not really dead, until you're dead." Warlocks aren't truly finite in the resource department the way other casters are. Resource gain and spending is going on all the time as a warlock -- in fact, it's what we do. The various bars on a warlock's unit frame are very mutable during combat. We use our mana to generate our shards, our fury, our embers, and our overall damage, and then we use those secondary resources to regain mana or health again in addition to dealing more damage.
An essential part of being a warlock is realizing that all of the attackable health bars in the field are eventually going to be part of your resource bars for damage purposes, one way or another.
DoTs have "cooldowns" baked in with their punch. We aren't limited by hard cooldowns because our DoTs are often high sources of damage themselves -- we would much prefer to let them run as long as possible when applied with significant stat buffs. DoTs can also generate resources or provide additional perks. We already have importance in when to cast a DoT, without movement interfering.
So we're building up this secondary resource all the time -- what makes it meaningful?
Affliction spends shards primarily on Haunt, which is a target debuff that buffs all our damage done to the target. Haunt is a fast cast, but Malefic Grasp is a channel. Haunt trades a limited resource for power, while Malefic Grasp demands safety from interruption in exchange for power. Without Malefic Grasp, affliction would be bored waiting for DoTs to tick on, so it would be quite the bummer for playstyle to interrupt the channel with movement.
Demonology spends demonic fury through abilities in Metamorphosis stance, which is already pretty powerfully mobile through the instant nuke Touch of Chaos. However, the best default gain of fury outside of a proc is to spam the cast-time Shadow Bolt. Moving all the time would result in too much fury spent and not enough gained, so demonology needs some help in the gain department. Soul Fire already has meaning, for it gets a hasty proc; Shadow Bolt needs a similar concession.
Destruction spends a whole burning ember on a hugely awesome nuke, whether that is a cast-time Chaos Bolt or the execute-limited Shadowburn. Embers are readily generated through Immolate or Rain of Fire, though less so through the latter in patch 5.4. This will place more emphasis on the gain of embers through the casts of Incinerate, which places more weight on those casts. Sure, you can't cast a Chaos Bolt on the run, but you won't be casting a Chaos Bolt at all if you can't get the embers to do so.
When movement restricts spell casting, it puts pressure on spell priority, for you need to cast the best spell at the right time to make up for less damage on the run. In turn, this makes the spell rotation abstractly interesting, complex, and skill-oriented rather than gear-oriented. Total casting while moving Kil'jaeden's Cunning is overpowered and generally a boring idea -- it weakens our rotation and eventually the meaning of a well-played warlock.
The latest Kil'jaeden's Cunning change passively allows the three main fillers -- all of which have their own inherent importance to keep our rotation going -- to be cast while moving. Warlocks need movement as an challenge to casting to make life more interesting, but this recent change is a good compromise to keep movement from tipping too far into the domain of "not fun."
Blood Pact is a weekly column detailing DOTs, demons and all the dastardly deeds done by warlocks. We'll coach you in the fine art of staying alive, help pick the best target for Dark Intent, and steer you through tier 13 set bonuses.